I started cooking after college as a low-paid intern in Washington, D.C., living on a low budget in a vegetarian group house. To save money, I relied on ramen noodles at lunch and my roommates and I took turns making dinner in our dingy and dilapidated kitchen. Inspired by author Mollie Katzen, I started cooking from The Moosewood Cookbook and The Enchanted Broccoli Forest, and created meals like Falafel and Eggplant Curry that everyone devoured.

Mollie Katzen has a charming style of writing cookbooks, with handwritten recipes and her own whimsical illustrations peppering the pages. Cooking with Mollie’s guidance, it’s almost impossible to not be in a good mood by the time dinner is ready.

Mollie is the mother of two grown children and is one of the best-selling cookbook authors of all time, with more than 6 million books in print. In addition to those mentioned above, her books include the award-winning children’s cookbook trilogy, Pretend Soup (with Ann Henderson), Honest Pretzels, and Salad People, which are designed to get kids as young as three years old in the kitchen creating delicious food from real recipes.

What I love about these books is that they approach recipes from the perspective of very young children, from the recipe titles to the numbered illustrations of the recipe steps that even pre-readers can follow. “We designed this book to enable very young children to cook as independently as possible under the gentle guidance of an adult ‘partner.’ Your child, as head chef, gets to ‘read’ a pictorial version of a real recipe and do much of the preparation, with you, the attendant grown-up, as helper,” Mollie writes in Pretend Soup.

Mollie was kind enough to take time out of her busy life developing recipes and creating artwork in Northern California to answer some questions for Kitchen Explorers:

When did you first discover that you loved cooking? Did you cook as a child?

As a very little child I was always interested in being in some kind of a laboratory setting. My brothers had their chemistry set and I was always in the backyard making mud pies. My mom had four kids and encouraged us to have independent projects going on. She would give me old kitchen utensils, wooden spoons, tin bowls, measuring cups, and those were my toys. I couldn’t wait to get out there.

I fed a whole village of invisible critters who lived between the stones of the house. I never thought of it as a chore, I loved it. As early as three, I had a daily structure around cooking that involved my invisible critters and my mud. One of the things I thank my parents for is not caring if I got dirty.

When your kids were growing up, how did you entice them to join you in the kitchen? What were some of their favorite foods or favorite things to make?

I didn’t always make my kids feel as welcome in my kitchen as my mom did because I was working on my cookbooks and the kitchen was a lab. Raising a family in a kitchen where I was also doing my work was not easy. But my daughter became a baking fanatic in high school. I taught her what the structure of the cookie was, and within that, the flexibility you have with how you flavor it. She now knows how to bake without recipes, which not many people know.

My son wasn’t interested in cooking until he was a teenager. When he was 12 or 13 out of the blue he said, “Mom, I’m ready for a fine dining experience.” From there on in, he developed a real interest in fine food. Now he’s a hip young New York City artist.  He has friends with good palettes but they can’t afford to eat out a lot, so he’ll cook for them. He’s a real meat connoisseur, and just did his first rack of lamb.

What made you decide to write three cookbooks for young children?

I always wanted to do something for children; I actually wanted to do children’s literature. But then it occurred to me that I could actually write a cookbook for kids. Through my son’s preschool I realized that cooking really could be done with young kids. He had a fabulous preschool teacher with whom I ended up writing Pretend Soup, and she had a whole cooking program in the classrooms where they did serious cooking projects with the kids each week. She really tasked it out to the three-year-olds with a great deal of thought. I started volunteering on those days to watch and take notes. I started the book shortly after that.

Any advice for parents who aren’t necessarily confident cooks themselves, but want to instill a love of good food and cooking in their children?

I’m aware that mealtime, especially on weekdays, can be a pretty stressful time because everyone just needs to get a meal, and you’re trying to do so much, make it be healthy, affordable, trying to find the time to make it, having to clean up. It’s not realistic to think that your kids can cook with you every day in that situation.

Start off with stuff that is not goal-oriented; the best time is probably a Sunday afternoon when it’s raining and you can say, “Lets make some popovers or pound some avocados.” Choose a time when your blood pressure is naturally lower. If you’re not such an experienced cook, think assembly, think salad bar, taco bar. One of my favorites is Polka Dot Rice [from Salad People]:  Prepare brown basmati rice with 3 – 4 different diced vegetables (some steamed, some raw), diced tofu, and a shaky bottle of soy sauce and sesame oil.  You can put it out as an assembly line and everyone makes his or her own polka dot rice. Top it with some peanuts or seeds if they’re not allergic. It becomes a healthy one-bowl meal and a family togetherness ritual.

To experience one of Mollie’s assembly-line recipes with your preschoolers, try her Number Salad Recipe.

Mollie also shared a simple chocolate cake recipe adapted from Honest Pretzels, which is so easy for kids to make. She says, “This must sound very strange. You don’t use any bowls at all to make this cake — you just put everything right into the baking pan and stir it up. It looks like a mess! But go ahead and put it in the oven anyway and say to yourself, ‘I believe.’ Because a real chocolate cake will come out of that oven, and you will feel like you just performed a miracle. If that isn’t remarkable enough, this chocolate cake just happens to be one of the best ever — dark, moist, and tender. It is so good, in fact, that it doesn’t even need any frosting. Just eat it plain, or with a little powdered sugar on top, and wash it down with a big glass of ice-cold milk. Terrific!  Note: This chocolate cake is 100 percent vegan. So, if you are a vegan, wash it down with a big glass of ice-cold soy milk instead.”

Cookbook Giveaway:
This week Random House Children’s Books is giving away one copy of Pretend Soup and one copy of Salad People (Cookbooks for Preschoolers & Up) to two lucky Kitchen Explorers readers (each will win one book). To be eligible to win, please leave a comment below sharing your favorite memory of cooking as a child or with your own child, or your favorite Mollie Katzen book or recipe. Winners will be selected on Monday, November 14th using Random.org, so please leave your comment by midnight PST on November 13th. Contest is closed. Congratulations to our winners, Carrie and Wiley.

Recipe: Made-in-the-Pan Chocolate Cake

  • Prep Time: 10 min(s)
  • Cook Time: 30 min(s)
  • Servings: 8

No bowls are needed to make this cake; just put everything in the pan!

Ingredients

  • 1 1/4 cups unbleached white flour
  • 1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 cup water
  • 1/3 cup canola or vegetable oil
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon cider vinegar or white vinegar

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 325°F.
  2. Have ready an 8-inch-square glass baking pan.
  3. Put flour, cocoa, sugar, salt and baking soda into a pan.
  4. Mix it together.
  5. Add water, oil, vanilla extract and vinegar.
  6. Stir slowly with a fork in small circles to blend. As it becomes a batter, mash, scrape, and stir with fork and spoon until smooth.
  7. Scrape the sides with a rubber spatula, and spread it evenly.
  8. Clean the edges, and then bake for 30 minutes.
  9. Cool before cutting into squares. This tastes good (and looks pretty) with some powdered sugar dusted on top.

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  • LeaAnna Gray

    My favorite memories with myself cooking as a child are more bloopers than treasures. Once I mistook salt for sugar and didn’t realize until everyone kept spitting out my cookies and then once I decided I wanted to make peanut butter cookies but didn’t have any peanut butter so I went to all the neighbors houses looking to borrow peanut butter :-)

    I do have one with my son cooking with me though. He want quite 2 yet and he made those cinnamon and applesauce ornaments with me (does that count?)

  • Karen

    We make this all the time. But we call it Wacky Cake! It’s so easy and so good! You can even make some chocolate icing/glaze and pour it on right after the cake comes out of the oven. The icing practically melts over the top of the cake. Delish!

  • Sharon c

    I remember baking all kinds of christmas cOokies

  • Kelly

    As a child in a high chair my mother would let me make “pretend” muffins and such with cornflakes and other simple ingredients. I did the same with my son letting him make soup with baby cereal, water, cinnamon/sugar and my wooden spoon and pots. Now at 4 he loves to help me cook anything but I love to watch him make his own pizza as he decorates it so carefully. His one for the pizza and two bites for me philosphy is funny as well. His excitement in helping me mkes the meals special.

  • Jane Meier

    My child is almost four and we’ve been cooking together since she was 2, so I have lots of good memories already. She can measure flour like a pro, crack eggs, whisk, and stir and pour. Yesterday, she was cooking with her grandma and she put a paper bag on her head as a chef’s hat…so fun!

  • Amy Eisner

    When I was growing up, my mom, sister, and I would make “cheese knots” on the first snow. We looked forward to it every year!

  • Deb Harris

    I love Mollie Katzen’s enchanted broccoli forest, the recipes are great to cook with kids. I loved cooking with my 4 kids & now my daughter is cooking with her 4yo daughter & 2 yo son.

  • http://www.fixmeasnack.com Cindy

    We have a copy of Pretend Soup and we love it.

  • Melissa Prins

    I love to cook with my kids… my daughter Rileigh and I love to make strawberry jam… she tells me every time that she just can’t wait to be able to do it on her own when she gets older :)

  • Bobbi Crapser

    My favorite memory is of my daughter “helping” me frost a cake. I was frosting one side thinking that she was frosting the other side. I look to see her progress and what do you think I see? Just a little frosting on her side and her mouth full of frosting and a little on her face. It was great!

  • sandra

    I have 2 boys and I think it’s so important for them to learn how to cook, and not to expect their [future] wife to do it all for them.

  • http://www.tscrapper.etsy.com Traci Patena

    I love cooking with my daughter, and one of our favorite things to cook together is lasagna. She loves to help with the layering and to add the cheese on top.

  • Lani

    We took our oldest daughter on vacation with one set of grandparents (when she was still an only child). Even at the age of two, she already loved to help in the kitchen and it was so fun cooking as three generations of women. Now, her favorite activity is to cook with her grandmother whenever there’s a kitchen!

  • Janice

    I fondly remember making chocolate chip cookies with my mom and her old Sunbeam mixer as a preschooler. I have a photograph of us doing just that, and now having children of my own realize the patience and care it required to share the task and instill a love for cooking in the next generation!

  • Amy

    I have just started cooking with my son (he turns three Sunday) and he loves it! He loves being able to stir and put things in the bowl. I want to start doing much more with him as he gets older cause its fun for both of us!

  • Kristin

    My mother in law calls this Crazy cake…my kids love making it because they can do it all by themselves from start to finish. I love cooking with them!

  • Sharee

    I loved cooking as a kid (I could make my own treats ;) , and my 3 year old LOVES it too. We often do recipes together with him bringing me the ingredients and stirring. These books would be great for him to further develop his culinary skills — and I love that the simplicity of book would help him do more himself :)

  • Melissa Prins

    I love to cook with my daughter Rileigh… she is 8 and loves to be mom’s helper… when we bake cookies she is the decorator extrordinaire and her brothers all love to sneak them away! :)

  • Jenny

    I am actively trying to create cooking opportunities with my children. This looks great!

  • Allison F.

    Yay! Love Mollie, and I’m really excited to try cooking when my baby’s a little bigger. All of my favorite memories of my mother are from the kitchen.

  • Rona Kronenberg

    I have very fond memories of visiting my grandmother in Israel and making mini-challahs. We would make the dough together. She showed me how to braid the dough. Then I would get the chance to sprinkle on the toppings of my choice (usually sesame, poppy, or caraway seeds).

  • Wendy

    My daughters 7 and 5 always ask to help me make dinner or bread. Their help may try my patience – but takes the drudgery out of making dinner – we have a lot of fun!

  • http://mommyneedscake.com Kristen

    Our favorite family recipe to make all together is homemade pizza. The little one loves to help with the dough and my older daughter can now help slice the veggies. Then everyone gets to select what they want for toppings. There’s something for everyone to do so it’s never a dull evening when it’s pizza night!

  • Tani

    My daughter loves making chocolate chip peanut butter cookies with me. Only most of the time they are sans chocolate chips due to my daughter eating them :)

  • Lani

    We took my daughter on vacation with her grandparents when she was 2. She insisted on helping her grandma and mom prepare dinner every night. Standing as three generations of women in the kitchen was a special experience and continues to this day.

  • Rachel

    My son loves making Challah with me on Friday. He loves to braid it and even though it may not come out as beautiful as if I did it myself he is so proud of himself. I also love that when my kids help make a cake they tell my husband that they made it.

  • http://wileydise.blogspot.com Wiley

    My favorite cooking memory growing up is making snickerdoodles. I even had the recipe memorized. Cream of tartar still makes me smile!

  • http://wileydise.blogspot.com Wiley

    The comment form and I are not getting along :(

  • Karen

    I just LOVE the hide n seek muffins in “Pretend Soup” (and the kids love making them — and eating strawberries along the way!)

  • Jodie

    I love that my daughter will ask to help me cook, I don’t even need to cajole her! She loves to pour and stir.

  • Vicki I.

    My kids ages 6, 4, and 2 love to help in the kitchen. We even put their 8 month old brother in his high chair and pretend that he is the “audience” for our “cooking show”. :) .

  • carrie

    My 3 year old son first started helping me make banana bread and now at 5 is asking to make his own.

  • Renee

    A favorite memory is making Christmas cookies each year with Mom, sister, grandma, and aunts. I’m going to start the tradition this year with my young ones!

  • Shar

    huge fan of Mollie’s and fav cooking with daughter is baking…she loves it!

  • Amy in Oregon

    We’ll have to try this – simple and good!

  • Yazmin Quijano

    My favorite memory so far, is with my then just turned 2 and 4 yo girls. My oldest, had been helping me for a while, but it was the first time my youngest one was totally engaged and actually contributing. It was so sweet to see my oldest help her little sister and my youngest following her lead! So, looking forward to continue creating moments like these! Thanks!

  • Debbie

    My favorite childhood cooking memories are baking Christmas cookies with my mom and sisters. I have a 3-year-old daughter, and she’s already my baking helper. I also adore Mollie Katzen’s cookbooks (and have The Moosewood Cookbook, The Enchanted Broccoli Forest, Sundays at Moosewood & a little spiral-bound book that I forgot the title of). I didn’t realize she had any cookbooks for kids, so this news is very exciting to me! My favorite Mollie Katzen recipe is Buddha’s Jewels. Yum!

  • Collette

    I have a lot of memories of food prep help. My parents did a lot of canning, so my siblings and i often helped them – all the way from picking the fruits/veggies to the final product and of course consuming them. I guess since it is Thanksgiving time, a good memory to mention would be pumpkin bread. As a family we made many loaves of pumpkin bread, complete with a glaze. We then wrapped them all, tied a ribbon around them and added notes of gratitude to whomever we had chosen to thank.

  • Karen

    We LOVE making hide and seek muffins (in her book Pretend Soup). The kids also like eating strwaberries as we prepare these. We make these for most school gatherings!

  • meredith

    My kids and enjoy kitchen projects so much. It’s a great chance to get together and do something ‘grown up’ (or not). Favorites for my preschooler and I are bread and granola.

  • megan swadley

    Hi- I love the honest pretzel cookbook! My three kids and I love cooking together and watching cooking shows on tv. Because of all the exposure and making things together my kids now love spaghetti squash ‘spaghetti’ with homemade sauce. They never would have tried it if they didn’t help make it. I would love another cookbook to learn more ideas!

  • Molly

    My son loves making bean soup. He puts everything in the crockpot, and by the time we all get home, the dinner he has made is ready for us.

  • emma

    looking forward to trying this with both kids (3 & 5) using the 2 types of cocoa powder I found in the cupboard; My favorite cooking memory is actually a recent tradition I’ve started since my daughter began Kindergarten earlier this year – we make muffins each week – often together – to put in her lunch and snack. We’ve been baking whole grain muffins made of some combination of cranberries, blueberries, bananas, apples, applesauce, oats, whole wheat, pumpkin & sweet potato.

  • vanessa

    My favorite cooking memorey was making pecan pies a christmas gifts for friends and family. We were a family of 8 and created an assembly line making pecan pies in bulk, beginning with shelling the pecans.

  • http://blog.hippoflambe.com Robin (Hippo Flambe)

    When my oldest son was 2 I gave him the job one day of using the tube garlic peeler to help me prep dinner. He was having so much fun with it that I let him keep one clove to continue to peel it while I continued with the recipe. At one point he picked up the garlic, cradled it lovingly near his face and crooned, “I love you garlic.”

  • http://LobotoME.com Jill Salyers

    My favorite memory is baking Spritz cookies with my mom every Christmas. Something about using the cookie “gun” and the smell of almond extract… To this day, almond extract makes me think of Christmas. I think this may be the year I start making these with my daughter. She’s three with a twin brother who will be too busy throwing or kicking something.

  • Natasha

    My two-year-old loves mixing bread batter from the “Artisan Bread in 5 minutes a day” recipe. It is fun and makes him proud.

  • Laura

    My 5 year old LOVES to help in the kitchen. When he was about 3 he announced “Mommy, my job is to lick”…. of course meaning he gets to lick off frosting, cookie dough, etc. He now says that every time we are making anything. :)

  • Kristine

    I would love a cookbook for my preschoolers!

  • Rona Kronenberg

    Ok. This is my 3rd attempt at posting this! I can’t see it in the comments. One of my favorite childhood memories was when I would visit my grandmother in Israel, and we would make mini-challahs. We made the dough together. Then, she taught me how to braid them. After a little egg wash, I sprinkled on the toppings (usually sesame, poppy, or caraway seeds).

  • Janice

    I have fond memories of baking chocolate chip cookies with my mother when I was a preschooler. I have a photograph of us and her old Sunbeam mixer, me sitting on the table and mom standing next to me in her 70s terrycloth apron with mushrooms on it. Now that I have kids I understand the patience and care it took for her to instill a love for cooking in the next generation!

  • Rona Kronenberg

    Ok. This is my 4th attempt at posting this! I can’t see it in the comments. One of my favorite childhood memories was when I would visit my grandmother in Israel, and we would make mini-challahs. We made the dough together. Then, she taught me how to braid them. After a little egg wash, I sprinkled on the toppings (usually sesame, poppy, or caraway seeds).

  • Dana

    I have just recently started cooking with my 2.5 year old, something I have been looking forward to for years. I love that he “reads” the receipe with me and rechecks it as we add ingredients, saying “what now?”.

  • Virginie

    My daughter (3) loves to cook, she heps with the batter for pancakes, cut bananas with a plastic knife and loves to flip the pancakes (with a lot of supervision of course). This would be a great cookbook to teach her how to follow recipes.

  • Michelle Carey

    My 3 Boys would LOVE one of these cookbooks. They are in the kitchen wanting to help me all the time. I remember cooking with my mom and how much I loved it. I hope I can help my boys to enjoy cooking as well!
    Thanks for the give away!

  • Rachelle

    My favorite memory as a child was going to the butcher shop to buy “red meat”. My mom was a vegetarian, meaning this was just for me. I could pick the meat out and how to cook it. We always had some crazy great tasting contraption. Besides the time I asked her to microwave it. YUCK
    With my own kids I enjoy anytime I can get them in the kitchen. What I love most is how each time their friends come over they expect and array of fresh fruit sitting out in order to make their own smoothie creations.

  • Angie

    My 2 year old daughter loves to help me pour and mix ingredients when I bake!

  • Amy Rivers

    We haven’t had a chance to do a lot yet, but I love the enthusiasm that my son has when he asks if he can help makes me want to figure out a way to accomplish it!!

  • Michelle

    As a child, I helped my grandma, aunts and cousins make the traditional foods for the Holidays. The kinds of foods that made it FEEL like the holiday! I vividly remember rolling dough or adding some secret ingredient. The sweet smell would greet us at the door. I have a BIG family and ALL the cousins would be there to help. We have carried the tradition. There is no greater joy than watching my children help cook the same foods with their grandma and cousins. Cooking keeps families close!

  • http://www.rainbowplate.com/ Janet

    I completely agree that getting kids into the kitchen is one of the most important things we can do to help raise healthy eaters. Cooking connects you with food in a way that is so healthy! I also have fond memories of Mollie’s books, and I’ve bought copies of her classics for my kids who are now away at university. My teenage daughter just finished cooking pad thai for dinner, with only minimal input from me -so proud!

  • crystal s

    making fried chicken with my dad.

  • Marcia

    I love that my 5-year old not only enjoys helping me make almost anything (especially salad), but he also wants to help me clean up after.

  • Jenn

    My 16 month old is following his big brother’s lead and pulling up his own chair to the counter to help Mommy cook. Clever little monkey

  • http://www.marketbasketnutrition.com Cindy Silver

    My son grew up helping in the kitchen, with a mom dietitian and a dad scientist. When on his own, though, he loved making concoctions that ranged from smoothies to toppings to sauces. Some were really good…others were basically inedible. But, the main thing was that he enjoyed the kitchen experience!

    • Julie

      Would love to have another kid-friendly cookbook to use with my 5 y.o. and 15 m.o. Thanks for the opportunity!

  • Lynn cabral

    I was given Still life as a college student and relied on it heavily in med school. My go-to potluck appetizer is the Tunisian eggplant appetizer. I can make baking powder biscuits by memory and the molasses crinkles are my all-time- favorite. I have a 5 and 3 year old, and they are excited to help in the kitchen. We love Pretend Soup!

  • Lani

    My daughter has been taking every opportunity to cook with each of her grandmothers since she was 2. Very cool to watch multiple generations in the kitchen at once!

  • Yazmin Quijano

    My favorite memory is when my, at that time, just turned 2 yo and 4yo were making a pizza with me. They had “helped” me before, but it was the first time my youngest was totally engaged and following big sister lead and my oldest was so sweet and patient “teaching” her. Looking forward for more moments like these! Thanks!

  • Emily Chaudhury

    I did lots of baking with my mom when I was young. I loved to experiment on my own, too. I recall making crazy, often inedible concoctions. I was very serious about it, even if it included chocolate, hot sauce and some dandelions from the back yard.

  • Elaine

    My kids love to help in the kitchen and I’m hoping to expand their palates with cookbooks and recipes that involve them and new ingredients!

  • Notasupermom

    My favorite recipe from Mollie is her shepherds pie.

  • http://www.raisedinraleigh.com/ Sarah

    Each holiday season we make oreo truffles by mashing cookies and mixing them with cream cheese. My daughter first helped make them when she was only 8 months old by sitting in her highchair and banging on a plastic bag of cookies with a spoon. Many years I take photos of her making this special treat. Its a warm memory to relect on and see how much she has grown.

  • http://www.molliekatzen.com Mollie Katzen

    So great to see all these comments! It’s wonderful that so many people are cooking and baking with their children. Thanks for your kind words about my books, and cook on!

  • Elsie

    Making chocolate chip cookies with mom is always a favorite memory. And the first day I made the spaghetti sauce by myself from scratch in the griddle!

  • Donna

    Making reindeer cookies from National Geographic kids with my 3 year old son.

  • Jennifer Collins

    My memories if cooking as a child are always at holidays. I was never allowed to help make things, only help with the table or cleaning, but when christmas came around, every day we made a new cookie or candy. It was wonderful. As an adult I dont cook much, i’m really not sure what all to do or how to get things to turn out correctly (even crockpot recipes turn out kinda wrong :( ) so hope for some simple ideas…love what I do find on pbs. :) thx

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